Hurricane Irma

Trinidad_after Irma_2

I was having lunch at a friend’s house.  She was excited as she was headed to the Cayos (Paradise on the northern coast of Cuba! Hotels set on pristine beaches, the ultimate r&r experience in Cuba).  Her husband yelled from the living room that there was a category 5 hurricane on the way.  Two wines in, we rolled our eyes and said it will pass, just as all the previous ones had – I’m Irish I think I can handle a bit of rain and wind.  48 hrs. later, the hotel was cancelled, doors and windows were bolted, the electricity was gone, the winds were wild and we were throwing buckets of water out of the house.

News reports of Hurricane Irma’s devastation in St. Maarten/St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Antigua & Barbuda filled the news.  In Cuba, a state of emergency was declared. Houses and all the hotels in the Cayos were evacuated and everyone was warned to stay indoors. The hurricane would be the easy part, it’s the recovery that’s the problem, they said.

We spent the previous day prepping.  The storeroom was filled with supplies, but most importantly water and fuel for the small generator that would save the stock in our fridges and freezers. The queues in the supermarkets were a nightmare, people stocking up before they were under house arrest for a week – a little like the alcohol run before Good Friday, no amount of preparation is enough! I thought this is a bit extreme but of course the Cubans are no strangers to cyclones and Hurricanes.  I was informed that during the last big hurricane, the electricity was gone for 15 days.  That’s 15 days without leaving the house, with no refrigerator to keep food fresh and nowhere to go to get more food as everything is closed. It’s a hungry time!

And now we wait….

The first day the rain was biblical, incessant and torrential. The winds were the strongest I have ever experience. My mother in law suffered a hole in her roof, as the neighbours hadn’t tied down equipment they had left out.   There were buckets collecting water in ever corner of the house not to mention the water coming in underneath the doors. I spent my days fighting with it and throwing it back.  The guys took turns filling the generator on the roof.  The house is from the1840s and has survived pirate attacks and all previous hurricanes. Surely, I thought, I’m not that unfortunate that this is the one to take it down.

It came and it went; 300kph winds, electricity out for 5 days, houses flooded if not blown to the ground, small towns annihilated, no food getting in, houses without running water – already a problem without a hurricane thank you very much.  The restaurant was closed for 2 days and by then the worst of it had passed.  People crept out of their houses – was it safe? Shops opened for an hour or two selling essentials, bread, drinks and produce that was going off at discounted prices.  The queues were long. People were consuming what they bought daily, as they had nowhere to store it.  There were tourists at taxi ranks rubbing their bellies; they wanted to go to another town to see if things were better there and if the restaurants were open.

As we were the only ones with a generator on the street, friends, neighbours and strangers off the street were all charging their phones, torches, batteries and any other chargeable items off the generator.  At one stage I counted 30 devices.  There are 3 places to get Wi-Fi in Trinidad, that’s right folks 3! Only the Iberostar Hotel was working after the Hurricane.  The hotel was boarded up and nobody was getting in or out.  This meant that every tourist in Trinidad was glued to the windows trying to pick up a signal and communicate with loved ones that they were alive.

The following day, we opened along with a couple of other restaurants.  There was a general festive air that we had survived.  As the electricity was still out and there was still a state of alarm, there was a curfew and all restaurants needed to close by 9pm.  An effort to get people off the streets, as it was too dark and the weather was still quite stormy.  Try explaining this to tourists that have been house bound for 3 days and just want to get out.  Most likely the Casa Particular (B&B) they are staying in has no electricity, maybe no water (one of the main water pipes was flattened by a tree) and little to no food. They just want to go out and have a decent meal with a rum fuelled beverage. When they are finally out they are told that they have to be indoors by 9pm?  Not the “Salsa, mojitos & cigars” holiday they were dreaming of.  Luckily, the next day everything was pretty much back to normal.

Now there’s a new problem, now there’s no tourism as the news reports have scared everyone away.  Most agencies have cancelled flights and trips for the rest of September and October.  I have emails and calls daily asking how we are coping and how long will the recovery take?

Trinidad_after Irma

To be clear, WE ARE OVER IT! Cuba is community driven with one of the best civil defence forces in the world.  Everyone worked together and fast to get the country back up and running as quickly as possible. Cuba escaped relatively unharmed except for the northern coast where it will take some time to recover.  The rest of the country including Trinidad is perfect and open for business. There are beaches on the southern coast too.

Don’t be put off by the news reports – they are paid to sensationalise.  If you were/are planning a trip to Cuba then have no fear, the country is still the gem it has always been.  If in doubt, contact a local and find out what is happening on the ground before taking drastic measures.

Peace y’all, over and out.


La Redaccion family

When people ask me what’s the best thing about Cuba, I immediately answer “The people”.

Cubans are incredibly caring, affectionate and kind people. They kiss and hug all the time. When people come to work in the morning, they spend at least 10 minutes greeting each other. Handshakes all round, boys kissing girls, boys kissing boys. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of triple bypass surgery, they will interrupt with any combination of the above. I remember previous jobs, where people would barely lift their heads to grunt/say hello, much too busy doing more important things. At first I found the Cuban way excessive but this is incredibly important to them because people, family and friends are at the heart of everything they do.

People always say that their No.1 priority is family. But actually in most cases it’s work first and then family. Not because we want to but because we have to. We live on credit, we never own anything and want everything. We have bills coming out of our ears and if we don’t have a job we can’t pay for any of it. In Cuba there is no credit system. People save and then buy what they want. Usually mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews all live in the same house. A house they received under the socialist system, a system that ensured a roof over their head, food to eat (rations), education and healthcare – all for free.

They want money but they don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about paying their mortgage and credit card bills. This means that their sole focus is their family and the people around them.

Last week I found my boyfriend on all fours on our bed having what can only be described as contractions. He struggled to find a comfortable position with darting pains to his side and back. As with anyone having a baby I told him to breath and patted his forehead with a damp towel. I then called for help, as I know nothing about babies.

It was about 7 o’clock and the restaurant was filling up. His sister (manager) came in and within seconds it was like I had disappeared. Gradually the bedroom filled with his niece (waitress), his niece’s husband (waiter), his best friend (barman) and the chef. Their entire focus was Many and at that moment they were willing without question to drop everything and spend the evening at his bedside. I admit I had 3 focuses; getting my boyfriend to the hospital, the busy restaurant we were leaving behind and getting him out without people thinking he was dying from the worst dose of food poisoning from the restaurant.

This country may be flawed in many ways but Cubans have their priorities straight. They work to live and don’t live to work. They are all about people and family and my god do they know how to have a good time.

 Many was fine in the end. They did an ultra sound when we got to the hospital. Apparently he was passing a kidney stone and not a baby.


Mañana mañana

maira sidecar

When I was younger I was late for everything. I once left a friend (thank you for still being a friend) waiting outside the GPO for 3 hours. I was a student at the time and didn’t have a mobile phone. I eventually turned up and soon realised that being late was really rude and would not be tolerated on either a personal or professional level.

Since I arrived in Cuba, I feel like I am constantly waiting outside the GPO.

During my first trip to Cuba, my friend and I were offered a lift to the beach. “Be here at 12” my now boyfriend said. I was there at 12 but I was still there at 3 and at 4. The house was like a train station. Never a dull moment, people coming and going, various bits and pieces being delivered and picked up, diesel fumes from the motorbike being fixed in the front room – no not the garage, the living room! The first time we rented a car, we parked it in the same living room. Tourists would stop and take pictures. I remember suggesting getting a taxi but no we waited for various people to go and get their beach gear, collect their girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/grandmother and whoever else wanted to come. We piled as many as possible into the battered Peugeot 205 and the rest travelled by motorbike & sidecar – silver lining to the wait, my friend was in the sidecar. We got to the beach around 5.

Westerners don’t like to wait, we are used to having everything on demand. Internet at lightning speed, efficient online banking services, excellent restaurant service, whatever we want when we want it.

I meet tourists everyday tearing their hair out because they can’t deal with the inefficiency of Cuba. “I couldn’t book the bus because the office ran out of paper to print the ticket”, “I couldn’t get money out because my card doesn’t work”, “I queued for 2 hours to get an internet card, when I got to the top of the line they had run out of cards and asked me to come back tomorrow”. I hear these stories all the time and think, well you’re on your holidays in Cuba, relax!

My mother in law prints her menus everyday. She can’t buy ink in Trinidad but instead gets it in Santi Spiritus, a town about an hour away. The last time, I stupidly volunteered my services. I popped the little ink bottle out the back of the machine and off I went to the Emerald city to buy supplies. I would be back quicker than you could say Pina Colada. When we got to the print shop (a family home with a little sign and picture of a printer), the lady of the house informed us that the guy we were looking for was “In the photo shop down there” we enquired “down there where exactly”?   We eventually arrived at the photo shop. The good news was that the guy had the ink, the bad news was that it was in a large container. He then produced a selection of large syringes (one for each colour ink) with which he would painstakingly measure every single ml of ink. I know Cubans love to haggle and it can literally go on for days, this was going to be epic. I cursed myself for not bringing a book, water or a gun – it was 35 degrees outside and twice that inside without a fan in sight. Guantanamo has less severe torture measures.   86 minutes later, we left the building, not a word spoken in the car all the way home.

Relax, you’re in Cuba………..